In a perfect world, people would be paid like rodeo cowboys. Do the job, perform well, and you get a check. Mess up, then we'll see you down the line.

But until that world arrives, the system must make arrangements as it goes. And one of the better arrangements to come along is the notion of "merit pay" for teachers. Common sense says that paying people more who do more will prompt others to work harder and do more. But common sense and education haven't always gone hand in hand. In fact, officials at the State Board of Education compare implementing a plan for "performance pay" to mounting a trip "into the wilds of Alaska."

It's unchartered territory, laden with dangers and chill.

The Legislature has set aside $20 million for performance-based compensation, so money isn't the issue. The issue is the upsetting of the status quo. Many teachers feel that they will be judged by subjective standards, that teachers who curry favor will get the extra money while those who are a "challenge" and rather unorthodox will be punished.

But haven't teachers been grading the students subjectively on performance since the School of Athens? Don't drama teachers, shop teachers — even coaches — hand out grades based on their own evaluation of a student's work and capability? The system has worked well for students. With oversight and some clear-cut criteria, it should work equally as well for teachers.

Right now school districts are on the hot seat to submit a plan by July 1 detailing who will be eligible for differentiated compensation, how their performance will be assessed and how much money will be handed out.

It is just a first step. But a first step in an important journey.

Teaching is a difficult, daunting task.

Judging which teachers are successful and which ones are not can be just as daunting.

But the current "one size fits all" approach doesn't offer enough incentive. It's time teachers who are worth their weight in gold get paid that gold. Just as it's time for teachers who simply "phone it in" to be bucked from the horse so true professionals can run the show.